Savor the Hot Taste of Life with Cannery Row at The Western Stage &
The Sunset Cultural Center in
In Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Cannery
Row’s publication and the 25th National Steinbeck Festival, The
Western Stage (TWS) is remounting J.R. Hall’s adaptation under the direction of
Richard Kuhlman and featuring Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) Guest Artist
Kent Burnham in the role of Doc.
Performances at TWS run August 5th – August 27th
in The Studio Theater,
The character of Doc is portrayed by AEA Guest Artist Kent Burnham, who
is very excited to be returning to TWS after playing Adam/Aaron in the 2000
production of East of Eden. Burnham
holds a B.A. in Theatre from
John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is directed by Richard Kuhlman, also a member of Actors’ Equity, whose past TWS credits include Mask of Moriarty (1999) and last years highly successful production of Tartuffe. Kuhlman has a great deal of experience bringing Steinbeck to the stage having written and directed Tortilla Flat for TWS in 2002; he also directed Of Mice and Men in 2003, and performed in productions of East of Eden at both TWS and Actors Theatre of Louisville.
J.R. Hall was born in
Like the 1995 production, which enjoyed a highly successful extended run
at the Outdoor Forest Theatre, this production of John Steinbeck’s Cannery
Row will also extend its run at the
“Cannery Row in
Although Cannery Row contains a distinct narrative, the novel (and thus the play) is a portrait of a Cannery Row that was already beginning to pass into the night when Steinbeck began scratching out the novel on his notepad. Now, except for a few historical buildings and markers, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is but a distant memory preserved by a few photographs and the tales that Steinbeck immortalized in Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday. His is not a marketplace filled with souvenir shops, high-end restaurants, and tourist attractions; it is a weather beaten street filled with weedy lots, sardine canneries, whorehouses, flophouses, and biological laboratories. It is not a trendy, hot spot teaming with honeymooners, bicyclers, kayakers, and service workers, but rather a neighborhood inhabited by drunks, artists, whores, cannery workers, and an eccentric marine biologist. It is not a strip mall that marches to the music of ringing cash registers, but rather a veritable tide pool of humanity that waltzes to the music of the waves, and the tide, and the phonograph in Doc’s Western Biological Laboratory.
Yet, it is important to remember that despite the fact that the stories told in Cannery Row have their roots in the experiences Steinbeck had while a denizen there himself, it is not a pure historical document, but a work of fiction. Characters and events are exaggerated, amalgamated, and, sometimes, perhaps even made up for dramatic or humorous effect. For instance, the story recounted in Cannery Row about how Mack and the Boys use a female cat in a cage to capture a bunch of tomcats is later attributed a single individual Steinbeck called Al in his essay “About Doc Ricketts”. The character of Doc is also an interesting example as well. Although based on his close friend and intellectual collaborator Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts (1897-1948), there are substantial differences between the real life Doc and the fictional Doc Steinbeck presents. (Some have even gone so far as to speculate that the fictional Doc is a composite of Ed Ricketts and Steinbeck.) The Doc in Cannery Row is a longtime bachelor with no children who in Sweet Thursday painfully struggles to write a single scientific article. The real life Doc Ricketts, however, was married several times, did indeed have at least three children, and, although not a natural writer, did publish several notable essays, a still popular book on marine biology entitled Between Pacific Tides, and collaborated with Steinbeck on The Log from the Sea of Cortez, about their 1940 expedition on the Western Flyer. What the fictional Doc certainly does share with the real Doc, however, is a love of art, philosophy, music, and people as well as science. Ed Ricketts’ real Pacific Biological Laboratory—the fictional is called Western Biological— was a virtual salon of great thinkers, and his personal philosophies on the “Organic Universe” and his concept of “Breaking Through” not only influenced Steinbeck, but also left its mark on noted mythologist Joseph Campbell as well. Finally, and most importantly, the fictional Doc is just as much a fundamental member of the community of Cannery Row as the real Doc was: drinking with the local bums, bandaging up people after brawls at the local whore house, and extending a helping hand to his fellow man. Ultimately, both Docs, the real and the fictional, are as much poet-philosophers as they are scientists. (For more information on Doc Ricketts and his personal and ecological philosophies, see supplemental article.)
J.R. Hall’s adaptation first premiered on TWS’ main
stage in 1995. Despite its warm reception, the artistic staff felt that the
show, which boasted a cast of 50-plus actors and huge set featuring several
multi-story buildings, was too large for such a simple story. The new
production, which has been substantially trimmed down and revised under the
guidance of dramaturge William Wolak, will be presented in the Studio Theater
and on the
Reprising their roles from the original production 10 years ago are Ron Cacas as the stingy grocer Lee Chong and Nina Capriola as the whorehouse madam Dora Flood. In addition, several other cast members from the first incarnation of the show are returning as well in new roles including Jerry Gill as Hughie, Bumper Metcalfe as Eddie, and Dan Tarker as Hazel. TWS staff member Chris Graham performed as Mack in the workshop production in 1994. All are extremely pleased to be returning to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and are honored to be able to participate in the next stage of this adaptation’s development process.
The Western Stage continues its 2005 season in the fall with Lisa Loomer’s dark comedy The Waiting Room in September, Victor Villianseñor’s family epic Rain of Gold in October, Anton Chekhov’s classic comedy The Cherry Orchard in November, and Kenneth Graham’s childhood favorite Wind in the Willows in December.
Dan Tarker Literary Associate